A personal release used to be tenting in the woods, an escape from the tensions of life. Whether it was a cold winter night or clinging to trails twisting and turning along the slopes of nearby hills, my silhouette became a familiar landmark to friends.
Bragging to them about my conditioning unfortunately developed a bragging aspect in my personality. Canoeing across a fair sized lake or managing heavy packs proved my ruggedness. I enjoyed the challenge of being first in anything within my domain of outdoor expertise. I had to be first in a snowshoe race, even first to sit at the kitchen table awaiting a feast. I always felt I earned it.
A few weeks later, on August 26, 1999 I was introduced to the face of last resort. While working at my part-time job, I looked up at a beautiful sunset, with its band of red and yellow pastel colors, at the Autumn Exhibition, when it happened.
Large crowds had already entered this fun place where horse racing, tractor-pulls, food concessions, a midway and other amusements awaited. A variety of lights flashed from the Ferris Wheel. Mechanical rides swung customers in every direction, screams piercing the sky. Then a wave of sound erupted from the carnival section, swooped across the sky and entered the right side of my head. Like some out of control twister it filled every crevice in my brain.
I had visions of a large physical wound, with my head missing. Grabbing the top of my skull with both hands, I kept saying, ‚Turn the music off. Turn the sound down.‚ Then I slowly spiraled downwards, leaning to my right.
I remember sitting briefly, feeling nauseous. My right arm could not hold me up. I slid to the ground and lay on my back. I was talking gibberish until I could not move my lips or any other part of my body. I was comatose. Yet I heard someone repeating, ‚Don‚t try to get up, stay down.‚ I was not aware I lay in the center of a large crowd as two members of St. John Ambulance worked on me.
Only after entering the hospital was I able to move, not realizing I had been comatose for about 45 minutes. I also discovered something significant had occurred at the precise moment my stroke attacked my body. My wife had an urging to pray for me at exactly 9 pm at home where our regular Bible Study group met each Tuesday.
I believe those prayers prevented more serious stroke damage, and pressed into my body the approximate ten seconds I calculated it took me to gently land on the ground. First I had gone to a sitting position then I lay down. Many persons I spoke with during the months ahead said when they had a stroke, whether they were standing, sitting, or lying in bed, they quickly collapsed.
At our Regional Hospital, I went through a series of tests; had an IV installed, Oxygen Mask, Blood Pressure monitoring, heart machine, EKG and two cat-scans completed. Also three lumbar probes took place, very painful. First two had a hard time getting through the muscle.
At 11:30 PM doctors said they were sending me by ambulance to another hospital, since it appeared I had a mild stroke, due to what he believed was a leaking aneurysm. In Halifax two neurosurgeons probed, poked, scratched feet, checked eyes and body movement, muscle strength and another cat scan. Could not find anything life threatening. They said come back in a week for an ultra-sound on neck carotid veins.
At home I began to experience a severe headache when standing or sitting, had poor writing skills, numbness in right foot, calf, leg, arm and extreme tiredness. I discovered how difficult it was to sleep because of fear. It was a worry that if I went to sleep, I would not wake up. That I would die. Then, I thought, what would become of my wife? I had to get up and walk around, and then returned to my bed. With my wife asleep by my side, I asked God for peace, and I slept very well.
Days later I read man fears three things‚God, Death and one‚s own mind. A friend later witnessed to me the devil sows fear into our very beings. In another dream I was standing before a huge car lot, where the salesman pointed out new models available for purchasing.
The cars were large, bulky, muscle-types, with every eye-catching intricate pattern possible. The feeling I received was they belonged to successful, powerful, and important ‚fat cats.‚ The message received in my heart was not to allow materialism and trappings from this world to capture my attention. That this view was only temporary and metal rusts. Such a lingering thought occupied my mind, ‚Metal Rusts! Metal Rusts!‚
I went to Halifax hospital to have an ultrasound on my Carotid veins. It meant sitting still for about 45 minutes while this lady pressed something across the back of my neck, then tested the flow of blood into my brain.
It was now possible to see my back-up doctor, since my own had moved to a new locale, and he confirmed I had a stroke. ‚A mild one,‚ he said.
‚Is there such a thing as an acceptable one?‚ I wondered. Instructions included, ‚No driving, smoking, watch your blood pressure, cholesterol and to take it easy for at least one month.‚
‚How could a busy person like me sit still for that long?‚ I asked.
‚Find a hammock and use it,‚ he answered.
I began to scrawl notes on the up and down behavior of my body. ‚I could not sleep on right side, causes numbness in morning. Writing improved with practice, headaches diminished, numbness restricted to tingle in toes, heel and right calf numbness in first hour of morning only. A combination of nausea and headaches took place infrequently. After two hours I became very tired. Eyes well, brain good. I even beat my two nephews at chess!‚
Thankfully I was soon able to get a new doctor who looked at my notes and reviewed what had happened to me.
She said, ‚You suffered a trauma and need rest. It will be a minimum of 6 wks to two months or more, before improvement is significant. But, a full recovery is within reach. Do not push it. Take it really easy, no lawn mowing, a little walking, drink lots of water, control salt intake, watch diet, sit down after headaches, call her if anything out of ordinary occurs, numbness will diminish over time, walking up stairs ok, ok to water lawn but be careful, a daily glass or two of red wine very good for heart, ok to go to Exhibition to see Mounties‚ Horse Ride, given RX for anti-stress. No working, no driving and that my condition was caused by blood clotting or leaking in head, only way to cause a stroke; no evidence of anything now.‚
‚THANK YOU LORD!‚ And I was to come back in two weeks. In the meantime I was determined to get off the couch and worked at it until able to walk the short distance to our downtown. Sitting on various benches, I was able to absorb the meaningfulness of various personalities. I call them Angels in the guise of our forgotten disabled.
As others rush to work, these Angels are often missed. It was my joy to discover Elvin, a man of darker skin and whiter teeth than mine, who now hailed me on the street. Since our many conversations, it moved to, ‚Hello friend,‚ instead of simply ‚Hey.‚
His red baseball cap continues to attract my attention, and I no longer wonder why so many deliberately stop and chat with the man. He is a dispenser of wisdom, unused to foul language, cheerful in spite of weather conditions and has adopted one particular corner of the street. Few know of his medical condition and the myriad of prescriptions necessary within his daily menu.
Then there is Bob, who saunters along, window-washing pole slung over his shoulder, pail of water in the other hand. Some ask if his green-painted running shoes and red slogan-filled t-shirt is a giveaway to his eccentricity. I can attest to the fact he is perfectly sane, with a matching twinkle in his eye.
Friends say this man has a closet full of creative urges. He works away in the lateness of night, when most of us are sound asleep. He is deliberate in preparing dress-up themes for next day‚s journey downtown. Some even purchase his creations. And he carries himself with aged pride. No one knows much about his past; where he worked, if he had a family or how old he really is. Merry eyes belie the cracks of skin on his face.
There goes Bill, stilt-like in his walk, maneuvering a tall frame. His day begins quite early as he walks for hours along the streets of our little town, as if he is a self-professed observer of life. His arm and leg movements are visibly strained from a car accident some twenty years before. ‚Went right through the windshield,‚ he said after we became friends. ‚Some people think I‚m into the sauce because of my shaky shuffle,‚ he winks.
But that was then, and this is now. Once I too hurried on by with a wave and a quick comment about the weather, my life controlled by the watch on my wrist. ‚Appointments can‚t wait,‚ I used to say. Now I can barely keep up to Bill, the walking wonder. His limbs stretch boldly forward each day, dispensing a will to overcome his limitations. And I feel privileged to inhale his cheerfulness, his vigor.
Then there‚s Harry, hat pressed tightly to his forehead. He can‚t afford to lose it in the wind, since his steps are slow in the event of needed chase. Some wrongly state he is a ‚challenged‚ person, unable to contribute much to society.
I see him like a painting on a canvas. His colors commence with a never-ending smile. When he fixes his gaze in one‚s direction, you can sense the depth of peace within his heart. And I too seek that contentment. The steady movement of his broom across the asphalt, dust pan in hand at a local parking lot, is a fixture upon the scene, valuable as any cherished antique.
Each of these angels, monitor my daily walk. Yes, I too was in a needless rush, off to some important destination, not wishing to be delayed, nor miss a coffee break. Sadly, amid another day, some unknowingly have passed through Paradise. Not realizing that love, caring and blessings from nearby Angels are waiting to be dispensed. All it takes is a moment of hesitation, a glance, perhaps a pause.
Stop, listen and speak with them and me too. I am thankful to join these Angels in their dance.
¬ 2010 by Richard L. Provencher
My wife, Esther and I really enjoy writing. It is an excellent salve, in addition to prayers, a great wife and family during my continuing recovery from a stroke/aneurysm. You can contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org re comments on our work. We live in Truro, Nova Scotia, Canada. Pray for others.